Art as a Place (or Time) for the Delight in What There Is

Ann Banfield

Berkeley University

 William Bankes (who was entirely free from all such vanity) laughed, and said he attached no importance to changes in fashion. Who could tell what was going to last—in literature or indeed in anything else?

“Let us enjoy what we do enjoy,” he said. His integrity seemed to Mrs. Ramsay quite admirable. (V. Woolf, To the Lighthouse, 91)

  1. Virginia Woolf located the origins of Bloomsbury in philosophical discussions inaugurated by Vanessa Bell uttering “the word ‘beauty’”—or it “might be . . . ‘good,’ might be ‘reality,’” she adds (Moments of Being 190, 189). The sequence of terms places the aesthetic question within the context of philosophy, first ethics and finally theory of knowledge and points to G. E. Moore’s 1903 texts Principia Ethica and “The Refutation of Idealism.” “Moore’s book had set all of us discussing philosophy, art, religion,” Woolf recalled (Moments of Being 190).

  2. For Principia Ethica posited “personal affection and the appreciation of what is beautiful in Art and Nature” as the two indefinable “goods” “worth having purely for their own sakes1. The phrase being “for its own sake” appears in other Cambridge philosophers. Whitehead equates it with “the element of value, of being valuable, of having value, of being an end in itself”2. When, as in Moore, it qualifies art, it recalls the movement of “l’art pour l’art” or its English translation, “Art for art’s sake”3. From its inception in the early nineteenth century, this movement has been attacked by the proponents of both a moral and a political art, i.e. of a conception of art as a means to an end beyond itself and not as an end in itself.4 The blurb on the back cover of the 1997 reissue of Albert Cassagne’s 1906 La Théorie de l’Art pour l’Art, encapsulates the general assessment of it, calling it “Ce mouvement de dépolitisation de la littérature et ce repliement sur l’Art comme ‘finalité sans fin.’ E. M. Forster’s statement “though I don't believe that only art matters, I do believe in Art for Art's sake”5, locates a version of it within Bloomsbury6. But Moore’s position differs from that movement in at least one important way: it insists not just on the autonomy of art but that art is one of the highest goods.  There are other goods, Moore admits, indeed “a vast number of different things, each of which has intrinsic value,” but art, along with friendship, is supreme.7

  3. Like the critics of “art for art’s sake,” Bertrand Russell concurred in thinking the “judgments of value & practical ethics” in Principia Ethica “unduly conservative & anti-reforming”8, blaming Moore’s Bloomsbury followers; “the generation of [John Maynard] Keynes and [Lytton] Strachey […] ,” he wrote, “aimed rather at a life of retirement among the fine shades and nice feelings, and conceived of the good as consisting in the passionate mutual admirations of a clique of the elite. This doctrine, quite unfairly, they fathered upon G. E. Moore,” who, Russell claimed, “avoided the view that the good consists of a series of isolated, passionate moments”9. Nicholas Griffin pronounces Russell “hardly fair […] Neither Keynes (as Russell concedes10) nor the Woolfs nor Fry could be accused of retiring among fine shades11.

  4. There was one Bloomsbury disciple of Moore, however, whose adoption of Moore’s ethic did merit Russell’s criticism. In Civilization, Clive Bell, who “Woolf declared “‘a Moorite’ in 1906 when he commenced ‘to write his book on Civilisation’”12, notoriously claimed that “Civiliza­tion,” consisting in Moore’s two goods, required “a leisured class” and thus “the existence of slaves” and their “surplus time and energy”13. Bell’s espousal of “a civilizing élite”14 with an “unearned income”15 and the “support”16 of others’ labor as “a means to good”17 met with protests like Russell’s. Woolf’s remarks that “in the end it turns out that [Bell’s] Civilization is [merely] a lunch party at no. 50 Gordon Square” echo Russell’s on Moore’s disciples’ exclusivity while suggesting Bell’s trivialization of the idea of civilization18.

  5. Making the pleasures afforded by beauty central among his “goods,” along with personal relations, Moore rejected the utilitarian ethics of Leslie Stephen’s generation, of Mill, of “the Benthamite calculus, based on an over-valuation of the economic criterion,” to quote Keynes19. In so doing, he also bid farewell to the “Europe before the War” Keynes evoked at the beginning of The Economic Consequences of the Peace, whose “delicate” social and economic organization was designed “to secure the maximum accumulation of capital,” i.e. to prevent “the pleasures of immediate consumption”20. In the 1930 “The Leaning Tower,” Woolf asks of the generation who came of age just pre-war, “What did they talk about?” “just before August 1914”, and gives “Mr. Desmond MacCarthy’s answer […]: ‘philosophy was more interesting to us than public causes … [Woolf’s ellipses] What we chiefly discussed were those “goods” which were ends in themselves … [Woolf’s ellipses] the search for truth, aesthetic emotions, and personal relations’”21.  Keynes’ own post-war assessment recognized that the war, “the consumer of all such hopes” (Economic Consequences 21), had dealt a blow to the Apostles’ confidence in “civilization,” “[t]hat dream, of sharing” (To the Lighthouse 114), but simultaneously, for “dreams persisted” (112), it revealed new possibilities. “The prospect of civilization briefly opened up by Moore’s Principia Ethica had receded over the horizon,” i.e. the “prospect” of a time “when posterity could enter into the enjoyment of our labors,” Robert Skidelsky concludes Volume I of his biography of Keynes. “The rest of Keynes’s life was spent in trying to bring it back”22.

  6. Bell’s role is to have put the question of who is to enjoy the highest goods explicitly and to isolate the crucial factor: leisure23. Civilization essentially depends on the enjoyment of leisure and the exercise of faculties that require leisure. Enjoying not just “the pleasures of human intercourse” and of beauty, but also knowledge, another good Moore mentions24, required “continuous leisure,” as the mid-nineteenth-century Apostle James Stuart, originator of University Extension, responding to a movement from below of Mechanics Institutes and working men’s colleges, filling la nuit des prolétaires, acknowledged. Leisure was “far harder to be got than the requisite money,” Stuart wrote, and consequently “the vast multitude of persons who cannot command that continuous leisure” but have the “desire for higher education” were excluded from such goods25.

  7. By placing the word “leisure” in the phrase “leisured class,” with its evocation of Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Bell links it to class. Leisure is not the prerogative of everyone. Veblen, to quote Alex Zwerdling, had “mounted a devastating attack on the privileged group that did no work”26. Bell meant to reject Veblen’s claims, Brian Shaffer asserts27. “Leon Edel’s judgment that Civilization is an ‘elitist’s credo’ (p. 284) is directed to the restriction of the enjoyment of leisure to one class only, to Russell’s ‘clique of the elite’ and Woolf’s ‘lunch party’”28. For Veblen himself has said, “In itself and in its consequences the life of leisure is beautiful and ennobling in all civilized men’s eyes”29. Nonetheless, Veblen’s book relentlessly attacks the cultured leisure he describes.

  8. The question was clearly debated quite early within Bloomsbury—Bell’s dedication of Civilization to Virginia Woolf indeed states that she was “in at the birth”30 (v). Bell’s answer to his rhetorical question “How are the civilizing few to be supplied with the necessary security and leisure save at the expense of the many?” is phrased as an objection to a position put forward by unnamed opponents: “The answer is that nohow else can they be supplied: their fellows must support them as they have always done.  Civilization requires the existence of a leisured class”31. Leonard Woolf would open his review of Bell for the Nation and Athenaeum with “Many people will be annoyed and many […] amused by ‘Civilization’’’32. One could guess it had already long been the case, not just in Bloomsbury33.

  9. How much the question is addressed by Moore is unclear34. Moore’s attack on Bentham’s and Mill’s greatest-happiness principle is not specifically directed at the idea that the good should be for the greatest number but that good is indefinable and has an objective existence35. Moore’s objectivism focuses on “the existence of the greatest quantity of pleasure,” arguing that “if we ought to aim at the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” it is because its “existence in a great number of persons seems […] the best means to the greatest quantity. If one took “the Utilitarian principle strictly,” i.e. “that the possession of pleasure by many persons was good in itself,” it would necessarily involve “the existence of a number of persons,” i.e. “more than mere pleasure.” “Utilitarianism, however, as commonly held, must be understood to maintain that either mere consciousness of pleasure, or consciousness of pleasure together with the minimum adjunct which may be meant by the existence of such consciousness in at least one person, is the sole good36. Nonetheless, in concluding that “personal affections and aesthetic enjoyments include all the greatest, and by far the greatest goods we can imagine,” Moore insists that it is only “in order that as much of them as possible may at some time exist—that any one can be justified in performing any public or private duty.” They “form the rational ultimate end of human action and the sole criterion of social progress”37.

  10. But does Moore’s notion of objective good allow that “provided the quantity [of pleasure] be equally great, an equally desirable result will have been obtained whether it be enjoyed by many or by few, or even if it be enjoyed by nobody”38? That is a question I think Keynes tried to clarify. Skidelsky, John B. Davis and Gilles Dostaler39 all make clear how important Moore was for Keynes’ philosophical ideas and ultimately for his economics. “Philosophy provided the foundation of Keynes's life,” Skidelsky insists. “It came before economics; and the philosophy of ends came before the philosophy of means”40. Keynes early subjected Moore’s ethics to philosophical scrutiny in two unpublished texts, “Miscellanea ethica” and “Egoism,” rejecting Moore’s assertion that good had an objective existence. For Keynes “‘the predicate of good is solely applicable to the mental states of conscious beings’”41. Since the universe as a whole is incapable of mental states, “regarded as an aggregate of conscious beings its goodness must be precisely equal to the sum of the goodness of the persons composing it.” Hence, the greatest good we must aim for is “not the good of the universe as a whole, but rather the greatest sum of good states of mind across individuals42”.

  11. That the appreciation of beauty should be from the start and continue to be so important for the future economist is perhaps surprising. Commentators like Dostaler, Upchurch and Peter Mini have pursued this subject with respect to Keynes’s support for the Arts. But there is something more profound at stake in the role of art that many of these commentaries miss. Art for Keynes was not part of the superstructure of the economy but one of its ends, along with “community values,” the extension of Moore’s “personal affections,” in Mini’s reading. More to the point, Dostaler sees Keynes as aiming “to establish the arts as an essential pursuit of a civilized society,” as M. G. Hayes writes in his review of Dostaler, moving “towards an ultimate ideal that engages the big questions, what is the economy for and how should we exercise the freedom that results from prosperity?”. “Dostaler conveys well Keynes’s Periclean vision of a civilization where art is valued for its own sake, and not as a means,” Hayes continues. But do these formulations commit Keynes to Bell’s insistence on Periclean civilization’s reliance on slave labor?

  12. In The Economic Consequences of the Peace’s “a key document,” according to Skidelsky, “marking a radical shift in Keynes’s thought from the nineteenth-century assumption of ‘automatic’ economic progress sustained by liberal institutions to a view of the future in which prosperity would have to be strenuously won in the teeth of the adverse circumstances which the war had created”43, Keynes found the “remarkable system” of the European pre-war economy

…depended for its growth on a double bluff or deception. On the one hand the laboring classes accepted from ignorance or powerlessness, or were compelled, persuaded, or cajoled by custom, convention, authority, and the well-established order of Society into accepting, [sic] a situation in which they could call their own very little of the cake that they and Nature and the capitalists were co-operating to produce. And on the other hand the capitalist classes were allowed to call the best part of the cake theirs and were theoretically free to consume it, on the tacit underlying condition that they consumed very little of it in practice. […] There grew round the non-consumption of the cake all those instincts of puritanism which […] has neglected the arts of production as well as those of enjoyment.44

  1. Keynes, far from a revolutionary, recognized that a society based on inequality of distribution is not only an unjust one, it is a fragile one.  By encouraging the arts of production via those of enjoyment and the cake’s consumption, Keynes meant to encourage not simply consumption in the strictly economic sense: hence his choice of the word “enjoyment” (and Roger Fry’s use of quotation marks around “consumed” in “Before art can be ‘consumed’” in his “Art and Socialism”45. One can “consume” a book, in the strictly economic sense, by simply purchasing it. Enjoyment, for Keynes, was connected with what he called “the popular ideal,” which he claimed the “overvaluation of the economic criterion […] was destroying”46. We could see the demand directed at Apostle Stuart for Cambridge professors to lecture at the Nottingham Mechanics’ Institute as an example of Keynes’ “popular ideal.” Let us posit hypothetically that enjoyment can be of the fruits of production, but also of other things that production—work—makes possible. Surplus—a word Bell uses—permits, at least in principle, for those who produce to cease to work for an interlude in order to enjoy. Art, as a human activity becomes the ideal of human activities, either the enjoyment of the fruits of work or an enjoyable work47.

  2. Hence, Keynes, initially under Moore’s influence, envisioned an economy organized to open leisure to wage earners, expanding Veblen’s “leisure class.” Instead of the “life of retirement among fine shades” Russell found conservative in Keynes’s espousal of Moore, ultimately Keynes’s economic writing gave Moore’s philosophy a potentially radical interpretation, surely under the pressure of social movements far to his left, from the trade unions, the Labour Party to a spectrum of socialist parties, including Marxist ones48 (the 1917 revolution in Russia had occurred only two years before the publication of The Economic Consequences of the Peace), yielding Keynes’s vision of a possible future economy in which “overwork, overcrowding, and underfeeding would have come to an end, and men […] could proceed to the nobler exercises of their faculties,” instead of one where only a few had such opportunities49. The contrast in To the Lighthouse David Bradshaw sees between “images of labour-saving luxury goods, such as the refrigerator” that “James cuts out from the catalogue” and “the toil and drudgery of Mrs Bast and Mrs NcNab”50 could just as well mark an economic order on the brink of change—the “labour-saving appliances” Woolf imagines herself as a miner’s wife [Mrs. Giles of Durham] “demand[ing] passionately” in the 1931 “Introductory Letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davies” and that the Labour Party’s application of Keynes’ economic policies would make the objects of working-class consumption51. The novel’s central section certainly acknowledges the importance of labor for maintaining the life of the Ramsays’ class, much as Ruskin had acknowledged in 1873 in Letter XXVIII of Fors Clavigera addressed to workers, where he lists at length the work done by others that makes it possible for him—an “idler,” since the “wit-work” he does is really play—to write his letter52. At the same time as “Time Passes” insists on Mrs. McNab’s limited leisure, it shows her singing at work and “stoop[ing] and pick[ing] a bunch of flowers to take home with her. She laid them on the table as she dusted. She was fond of flowers” (115).

  3. Civilization appeared the same year as To the Lighthouse, but Woolf, we saw, was long aware of Bell’s project.  There is a passage in the novel directed against Bell’s position in Civilization, critics like Shaffer and Bradshaw concur—Bradshaw calls it “a pre-emptive strike”53. In it, Mr. Ramsay thinks:

If Shakespeare had never existed, he asked, would the world have differed much from what it is today? Does the progress of civilization depend upon great men? Is the lot of the average human being better now than in the time of the Pharaohs? Is the lot of the average human being, however, he asked himself, the criterion by which we judge the measure of civilization? Possibly not. Possibly the greatest good requires the existence of a slave class. The liftman in the Tube is an eternal necessity. (39)

  1. That possibility “was distasteful to” Mr. Ramsay. So he considers an alternative in line with the utilitarian position:

To avoid it, he would find some way of snubbing the predominance of the arts. He would argue that the world exists for the average human being; that the arts are merely a decoration imposed on the top of human life; they do not express it. Nor is Shakespeare necessary to it. Not knowing precisely why it was that he wanted to disparage Shakespeare and come to the rescue of the man who stands eternally in the door of the lift, he picked a leaf sharply from the hedge. (39)

  1. Mr. Ramsay’s position, with its dismissal of the arts as superstructure, Bradshaw thinks is “the ‘argument’ of To the Lighthouse” against Bell54, and Shaffer, an echo of Bell’s “meditation on civilization, slavery”55. Neither seems arguable. Mr. Ramsay explicitly finds Bell’s ideas distasteful. But was Woolf ready to pronounce the arts expendable, save in moments of despair, as in the late (1940) essay “The Leaning Tower,” where, invoking a “gulf” of class “in which, possibly, literature may crash and come to grief,” she is “tempted to say England deserves to have no literature”56?. Bradshaw sees the leisured class “personified by the indolent Carmichael, a sometime poet with ‘a capacious paunch’ (p. 14) who does ‘acrostics endlessly’”57. But does Woolf mean to dismiss Carmichael’s poetic productions, which answered some need of the post-war world, because of his “sleeping in his deck-chair”58, a position in which so many members of Bloomsbury were photographed? The point is not to eliminate such uses of leisure, but to expand them.

  2. The alternatives Woolf presents are between Bell’s elitist interpretation of Moore and the utilitarian position Moore rejects, i.e. between a social vision in which the arts are perforce the purview of the few and one in which an equitable society cannot afford the arts, especially arts directed to the elite. Bradshaw argues that “Lily’s painting succeeds in expressing life as it is, with the centrality of labour acknowledged and incorporated, and, in a visionary way, it symbolises the potential for a shift in the construction of civilisation from one which valorises the works of ‘great men’ towards one which foregrounds ‘the lot of the average human being’”59. Other critics see a kind of ressentiment in Mr. Ramsay’s dismissal of great men. A third alternative emerges from Woolf’s work, one in keeping with Keynes’s position.

  3.  Mr. Ramsay’s defense of the lot of the average human being as the measure of civilization involves the strange proposition “that the world exists for the average human being,” taking this to imply the expendability of the arts (as the product of greatness). That proposition acquires another status within the dualist aesthetic that Woolf derived from Fry, who maintained that “[a]ppearance as revealed by Impressionist researches is” for the Post-Impressionist (he is here speaking of Seurat) “the raw material out of which he builds”60. Post-Impressionism doesn’t eliminate impressionism, but completes it. Woolf likewise retains a place in the novel for impressionism, which captures “life,” the word standing for sense-experience, appearances, in Woolf’s vocabulary.

  4. Woolf’s impressionist rendering of the world’s existence for an ordinary mind presents it in those “timeless, passionate states of contemplation and communion, largely unattached to ‘before’ and ‘after’” that Keynes acknowledged as his debt to Moore61. Her fictional consciousnessses are shown in these moments experiencing Moore’s highest good, as when Mrs. Ramsay, with the children in bed, “could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she felt the need of—to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone” (To the Lighthouse 54). The enjoyment of the “moment” is consistent with Keynes’ rejection of austerity and saving, his program of consumption now, not in the narrow, economic sense, but in the sense of the enjoyment of the fruits of labor. The “series of isolated, passionate moments” Russell found incompatible with Moore’s ethics are isolated in Woolf’s conception not because whosoever enjoys them has permanently withdrawn from the world but because the average human being does not enjoy uninterrupted leisure62. It is relevant that the young Keynes had claimed in “Miscellanea ethica” that “[i]n ethical calculation each individual’s state of mind is our sole unit”63. So civilization could be dependent on moments in which those who earned their living paused in their labor and not on a permanently leisured class supported by an unearned income. In the text titled “Middlebrow”64, Woolf writes that “lowbrows, engaged magnificently and adventurously in riding full tilt from one end of life to the other in pursuit of a living65 […] cannot see themselves. Yet,” she continues, “Nothing matters to them more. […] And the highbrows, of course, are the only people who can show them” because “they are the only people who do not do things, they are the only people who can see things being done”66. Placing herself in Three Guineas on the other side of the divide with those with no leisure, she answers the hypothetical objection of “the daughters of educated men” that they “have no time to think” by: “the daughters of educated men have always done their thinking from hand to mouth; not under green lamps at study tables in the cloisters of secluded colleges. They have thought while they stirred the pot, while they rocked the cradle”. The object of this thinking, in fact, is concerned with the nature of the civilization Bell reserves for the leisured, with “never ceas[ing] from thinking: what is this ‘civilization’ in which we find ourselves?” (Three Guineas 95). In “Introductory Letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davies,” Woolf remarks that there are “no Greek hills nor Mediterranean bays in their [working women’s] dreams” (229). They cannot “order, over the telephone, a cheap but quite adequate seat at the Opera,” for the beauties of nature and art Bell’s elite prefers are beyond them. They have only “odds and ends of leisure” in which “writing has been done in kitchens” (238). So Mrs. McNab trespasses in the abandoned house for her flowers—“It was a pity to let them waste”—but must wait till work is over to enjoy them (To the Lighthouse 115).

  5. Within the “moment” opens, even in the midst of work, that still space of a leisure beyond rest in which thought can take place, in one of Moore’s states of mind, that moment John Ruskin invokes in The Stones of Venice when the worker pauses to think and the hand trembles, leaving the mark of thought on the work, like the “nervous tremor which distinguishes the hand-made pot from the machine-made” according to Fry67. Or like the impulse to variety in work that “stamped all labour with the impress of pleasure,” according to William Morris68, named in Mrs. Dalloway. “[W]hen Sally gave her William Morris it had to be wrapped in brown paper,” Clarissa recalls, underscoring his revolutionary message (27). The state of mind of anybody becomes something with an intrinsic value—a value for its own sake—worthy of capturing in art. For “the world exists” for them.

  6. Woolf presents many such moments when characters pause “even in the midst of the traffic” (Mrs. Dalloway 6), Clarissa Dalloway at the open window, Mrs. Ramsay, “hung suspended” over the dinner-table or later, with the stocking she was knitting “dangling in her hands a moment” (To the Lighthouse 90, 56), feeling a delight in the fading of the last color from the sea. These are moments in which a character is moved by the beauty of nature or by another human being. Alongside them are moments in which the object is a work of art— for instance, when William Bankes assesses Lily Briscoe’s canvas. But there are homelier examples of the beauties of artistic creation: Rose's fruit bowl, in which Mrs. Ramsay's eyes put “a yellow against a purple, a curved shape against a round shape” and the Boeuf en Daube, provençal like Cézanne, the work of some unnamed cook, whose “confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine” Mrs Ramsay peers into while thinking (To the Lighthouse 92, 85). In Septimus’s recall[ing] of his encounter with Rezia, “the gay, the frivolous, with those little artist’s fingers that she would hold up and say ‘It is all in them,’” Rezia is at once artist and connoisseur—“‘Beautiful!’ she would murmur, nudging Septimus, that he might see” (Mrs. Dalloway 66). This is a moment not simply of quiet enjoyment but one that involves production and a reciprocal relation between audience and artist. If, as often claimed, Rezia is modeled on Lydia Lopokova, the Russian dancer and Keynes’ wife, here the high art of the Ballet Russe is replaced by the art of the milliner, one of those little arts Woolf claimed ““[t]he poor college must teach,” like the arts of the Omega Workshops (Three Guineas 50)69.

  7. Moore had spoken almost exclusively of the “enjoyment” as opposed to the production of art and Bell, as Leonard Woolf pointed out, made the connoisseur and not the artist the centerpiece of civilization. In Art, Bell had maintained that the artist was best left free but unfunded” (252-3)—it was the non-producer who had to have the means for leisure.  Leonard Woolf in his review summarized Bell’s position with a certain irony: “Civilization is to be found, he says, only in the small society of leisured persons, of non-producers, who pursue pleasure guided only by reason and a sense of values. The civilized man is not the creator, the artist, or the thinker, but the appreciator and critic, the man of taste and good manners, the drone in the human hive, who thrills with exquisite, but not too serious, sensibility, to the right sort of pleasures, the ‘Symposium’ of Plato, a landscape of Cézanne, or an ‘exquisitely civilized demi-mondaine’” (“World of Books,” 331). Keynes, by contrast, envisaged an economy and a society that guaranteed enough leisure for all not simply to enjoy the highest goods of fellowship and beauty, but also to produce works of art. That included institutional support for artists. “Artists depend on the world they live in and the spirit of the age. There is no reason to suppose that less native genius is born into the world in the ages empty of achievement than in those brief periods when nearly all we most value has been brought to birth,” Keynes wrote70. So it mattered whether there existed institutions that fostered education and the arts, institutions that did not have to justify their existence by demonstrating their profitability but that were funded.

  8. Virginia Woolf was naturally equally concerned with the social conditions that made artistic production possible. A vision of an art both enjoyed and produced by the masses is most fully attempted in Woolf’s last work, Between the Acts. Much has been written about the appearance of the pageant-play in the novel and in British late modernism in general as a response to the popular front, itself a response to Fascist and Nazi cultural politics and the war effort, with its revival of patriotic fervor71. T. S. Eliot, with The Rock, and E. M. Forster, the “Abinger Pageant” and England’s Pleasant Land, wrote pageant-plays in the nineteen-thirties. Nothing I will argue here is importantly in conflict with these readings of the ideological role of the pageant in Woolf’s novel. I only wish to point to the intersection between the pageant-play, the political climate that sur­rounded it and Keynes’s own attempts to envision an economy that incorporated a cultural politics with a space—and support, for “these things cannot be successfully carried on if they depend on the motive of profit and financial success”72—for the public arts as an extension of Moore’s ethics. The pageant-play, along with public ceremonies and processions, united the “good” of human relations and the “good” of beauty. Keynes asserts in his 1936 “Art and the State”73 that:

Even more important than the permanent monuments of dignity and beauty in which each generation should express its spirit to stand for it in the procession of time are the ephemeral ceremonies, shows and entertainments in which the common man can take his delight and recreation after his work is done, and which can make him feel, as nothing else can, that he is one with, and part of, a community, finer, more gifted, more splendid, more care-free than he can be by himself.74

  1. Keynes’s article post-dates the pageant-plays of Eliot but pre-dates Between the Acts, which seems to have been first conceived in 1938. Keynes’s phrase “the procession of time” could, however, be an echo of some line in Woolf, as a sign of a more general awareness of the public gathering. She frequently used the word “procession” not only for actual processions and marches “with banners” (Jacob’s Room 310), but also for the movement of crowds in the city and, more figuratively, for the movement of time and history, in Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, The Years and Three Guineas and, finally, in Between the Acts, specifically in association with the pageant play75.

  2.  “What accounts for the recirculation of this odd, anachronistic genre” with its “rank amateurism, costumed set-pieces, and potted history”?, Esty asks of the pageant-play and answers that “when the masses were asserting themselves on both the literary and political stages of Europe, pageantry was refitted to serve as the genre of insular and interclass harmony”76. Keynes too considered these “public shows and ceremonies” “fallen into an almost complete desuetude”77. Of the “few which we have inherited and maintain, often in an antiquarian spirit, as quaint curiosities,” he complains that “none that we have invented as expressive of ourselves” Keynes’s call for a modernist reworking of the pageant seems to set aside Eliot’s and Forster’s pageants and be perhaps a challenge to Woolf.

  3. If the goal was class collaboration, it was surely a response to working class movements and an acknowledgement of their power. For arguably the British trade unions had kept pageantry alive, and not as a means to class unity78, as had the great mass movements between the wars, which organized public ceremonies on a grand scale79. “The revival of attention to these things [popular assemblies] is, I believe, a source of strength to the authoritarian states of Russia, Germany and Italy […] and […] of weakness to the democratic societies of France, the United States, and Great Britain”80, Keynes wrote. He concedes their power, perhaps indeed as a means of reconciling the classes: “Are there any of us free from strong emotion when an occasion arises for all the people dwelling in one place to join together in a celebration, an expression of common feeling, even the mere sharing in common of a simple pleasure? Are we convinced that this emotion is barbaric, childish or bad?”81. For public ceremonies “may prove in some measure an alternative means of satisfying the human craving for solidarity”82.

  4. But even as a demonstration of class unity, Keynes thought “[t]hese mass emotions can be exceedingly dangerous” if “of an aggressive racial or national spirit”83, designed as they often are to awe the populace with displays of power. The Great War had shown how quickly the population, regardless of class, could be swayed by such emotions and the rise of fascism only confirmed that. In Mrs. Dalloway, the crowd, when the limousine carrying an unidentified figure of power passes, is “ready” unquestioningly “to attend their Sovereign, if need be, to the cannon’s mouth” with the same reverence that the Mayfair society gathered at Clarissa’s party shows for the Prime Minister (16). Only Septimus goes against the current. But in his 1927 “Hunting the Highbrow,” Leonard Woolf considers a more salutary danger than that of jingoism, arguing that periods of extreme “human suffering,” when people are induced to “think about the causes of their misery,” encourage radical thought, and “nothing is so dangerous as thought applied to the structure of society” (87).

  5. Between the Acts was conceived during one such period. The pageant-play at its center gave a new dimension to the debate about what class was the “nucleus” (to use Bell’s term) of civilization. The enormous number of participants they called for involved the public as active participants, even performers and not just as passive spectators or readers. The form itself had come out of popular tradition. “The scale of these productions was such that the ratio of performers to spectators often approached 1:1. The playbill for the 1910 Chester pageant, for example, featured 3000 performers and advertised seating for 4000 spectators,” Esty writes. “Often as many as a third of the town’s residents would act in its pageant.”84 Esty cites “one enthusiast’s boast that the pageant movement had ‘enlarged enormously the sum-total of the world’s artists.’ […] pageantry not only answered to the literary left’s desire for more popular forms of expression, but it gibed with the avant-gardist ambition of making everyone—and thus no one—into an artist”85.

  6. It is through Between the Acts’s historical pageant-play as well as through a second, unfinished pageant “published posthumously”86 as “Anon” and “The Reader,” all three in the form of literary history, that Woolf thinks out the ownership of literary production and culture in general. Woolf’s account of the origin of culture is rooted in individualism, Harker argues, by contrast to that of “[t]he popular front left,” which often hypothesized “the origins of culture in collective work […] in the rhythms of bodies in labour”87. Their pageants, according to Harker, “present the socialist future glimpsed in the popular front as a moment when culture would return from its alienated capitalist state and come home to labour”88. Harker may be thinking of Marx’s remarks about the worker’s alienation in labor. “The worker […] feels himself at home only during his leisure time, whereas at work he feels homeless. His work is not voluntary but imposed, forced labour89. But does a non-alienated labor exclude “free” time or require it? “Anon” answers by positing another scenario for the origin of culture. It conjures up a virgin forest filled with birdsong. Berkeley’s tree crashing in a forest becomes a song of nature that finally reaches the first human ears, a hunter. Woolf asks whether “the desire to sing” came “to one of those huntsmen because he heard the birds sing and so rested his axe against the tree for a moment” (“Anon” 382). Harker comments, “Woolf instead imagined culture’s flow beginning with the primitive huntsman at rest; the song of ‘Anon’ is generated not through collective labour but by the individual huntsman withdrawing from labour, and she quotes the early English lyric ‘By a bank as I lay/Musing myself alone, hey ho!’ to make the point”90.

  7. From a post-popular front perspective, with the testimony of forced labor camps and the more recent return of child labor and slavery, it is not so simple to dismiss the vision of the source of culture in a little rest from labor as a bourgeois individualist vision91. Woolf pictures that leisure as springing from a kind of surplus energy leftover from that spent in labor —the hunter is not pressed by necessity to continue to hunt, much as Schiller pronounces that already “it is certainly not the cry of desire that we hear in the melodious warbling of the song bird”92 and finds the “compulsion of superfluity” or play [“den Zwang des Überflusses oder das physische Spiel”] in what he calls an “idle strength” [“die müssige Stärke”], i.e. in an unused possibility of labor which instead “creates an object for itself,” as when the lion “fills the echoing desert with a roaring that speaks defiance, and his exuberant energy enjoys its self in purposeless display”93. One could see globalized capitalism, with workers who once enjoyed hard-won rest and retirement forced to compete with those most pressed by necessity, under the whip of a demand for ever-increasing productivity, as ever more robbed of the little of that surplus energy, that surplus value, they were once grudgingly granted, to meet the unrelenting demand for increased profits, and thus, ever less able to enjoy the benefits of civilization.

  8. Both Harker and Esty see the issue in terms of the individual vs. the collective. Harker speaks of “Woolf’s inability or unwillingness to conceptualize Anon’s cultural forms as collectively generated”94. For labor and collectivity are conjoined. Esty, on the other hand, sees a turn on Woolf’s part from individual subjectivity to collective tradition. “While the high modernist Woolf tended to make mental transcriptions out of fleeting or idiosyncratic impressions, here she makes mental transcriptions out of the words, songs, phrases, and tropes of a durable cultural archive”95. “Woolf has shifted interest from private production (‘I have had my vision’) to collective reception (I have ‘made them see’)” (268). Moreover, Esty sees private production as not originary in Woolf’s literary history; it is the result of the ultimate replacement of the medieval system. “The proper outdoor theatre of an older England—which Woolf associates above all with pageantry—was slowly and inevitably replaced by what Woolf calls the ‘theatre of the brain’” (267, citing “Anon” [398]), which, Esty claims, she tries to reverse in Between the Acts.  Yet, Esty concludes, “If Woolf’s invocation of national ritual alters the modernist novel of consciousness, this relative shift in style does not thereby signal a sudden revolution in values from ‘individualistic’ to ‘collectivist’” (268).

  9. It was indeed the case that Woolf was thinking about the collective labor of culture, though she didn’t choose that particular word. Already in A Room of One’s Own (1929) she had resolved Mr. Ramsay’s dilemma, countered his disparagement of Shakespeare and the arts presented two years earlier, via the androgynous combination of Shakespeare and his imaginary sister, their absorption of “the lives of the unknown who were her [and his] forerunners”—that is why she calls Shakespeare’s mind “porous” (A Room of One’s Own 134, 116). “For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common […] , so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice” (Room of One’s Own 79). But her conception of commonality and collective labor does not exclude a solitary absorption of the tradition. This is the sense behind her later statement in “Anon” that “the audience itself was the singer” (382). Anon, first a listener, becomes a solitary singer—“one of those huntsmen”; his song is heard by “someone” [emphasis added]. Singer and audience pass down the song, so that the audience becomes one of a chain of singers, not all solitary, not all united in a collective voice, but typically, alternating between moments in which a solitary individual plunges into the crowd and those in which he or she withdraws to ponder what the shower of atoms has brought, the continual shift from private space to the public arena and back—Clarissa mingling with others in the London streets, then retreating to her room upstairs.

  10. For the familiar dichotomy of individual vs. collective too simply brushes by the individual’s free enjoyment within the collective. In any case, Woolf, I think, was not ready to say that if Mrs. McNab sang “as she lurched, dusting, wiping,” she should be satisfied with this exercise of the aesthetic urge in work, even if joined by the collective of Mrs. Bast and her son, who “was a great one for work” (To the Lighthouse 111, 120). She, like Mrs. Ramsay, needs a moment to be herself, by herself. Harker speaks of “a familiar late 1930s imaginary retreat from a vertiginous present to an era characterized by Woolf as one of ‘long summer holidays’” in “The Leaning Tower” (437)96. Till, as Time Passes records, Through […] the long summer days […] there came later in the summer ominous sounds (To the Lighthouse 113). Both Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are set on long summer days. True, that is interpretable as the nostalgia of the leisure-class no longer secure in their leisure, signaled by the holiday paraphernalia Bradshaw sees strewing the abandoned house of “Time Passes.” But the midsummer night of Between the Acts, with its recall of “Old England,” could as well stir another class’s long memories—not all memory of a sunnier past is a politically regressive “imaginary retreat,” “amnesia in the fields”.  The theme could stand as a protest against the artisan’s loss of leisure charted in E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class about which there was once so much debate.  “The History of the weavers in the 19th century is haunted by the legend of better days,” Thompson’s chapter on “The Weavers” famously begins, for among other things, they had “‘plenty of leisure”97. One of the great themes of mid to late eighteenth century English pastoral, for example, Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” and Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village,” was the disappearance of what Morris would later call labor with the “hope of rest” in it98. In Blake’s “Nurse’s Song”, when the nurse orders the children on the village green at nightfall—“leave off play” (7)—in this pre-lapsarian, pre-industrial world, she relents and permits them to prolong it, telling them “Well, well, go & play till the light fades away” (13), while in the post-lapsarian world of Songs of Experience, she says “your spring & your day are wasted in play” (7)99. Play, so central a term in Schiller’s as well as Morris’ aesthetic and so dependent on Schiller’s idea of surplus energy that perhaps inspired Ricardo and Marx for the notion of surplus value, never appears in Moore’s ethics, but it could be taken as another name for Moore’s goods in themselves.

  11. I have focused on Moore’s philosophical influence on Keynes and Woolf. But both also felt the influence of other forces. Zwerdling argues that despite “its apparent complacency, Civilization is really a symptom of leisure-class anxiety and hostility in the wake of the General Strike and the democratization of British society since the war” and that Bell’s “fear for the survival of the intellectual aristocracy also found expression in Keynes’s work.  As an economist, he provided a conceptual alternative to what he took to be the hopeless muddle of Marx’s economic theory”100. Class struggle had won concessions from the capitalist class that Keynes’s economics defensively gave one form to. From the perspective of 1986, when Zwerdling’s book appeared, a period in which many of those concessions were still in place in institutional form and in which there was still a strong labor movement, although both, under Reagan’s presidency in the US and Thatcher’s prime ministership, were already under attack—the year-long British miners’ strike was defeated in 1985—, the triumph of reform over revolution perhaps struck anyone sympathetic to that struggle most. But from the perspective of 2012, one is struck more by how much someone hostile to the Marxism of many of the younger members of Bloomsbury, including Clive Bell’s two sons, was willing to concede101. Circumstances forced Keynes to recognize that the intellectual life he wished to preserve could only survive if it was equitably distributed. If workers today already look back at a recent past in which there was more leisure, should that be interpreted as amnesia? Or could the wage-slaves of the future be similarly haunted by the memory of better days, paid vacations, free education in public universities, sabbaticals, pensions, formation emploi and congé formation, all arguably products of the application of Keynes’ economics, all creating a more equitable distribution of leisure for a society whose end was not the maximization of profits but the enjoyment of some version of Moore’s goods in themselves. But as we peer into our night of “Time Passes,” who knows what the future will bring?

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1 G. Moore, Principia Ethica, 188.

2 A. N. Whitehead, Science in the Modern World, 89. “‘Value’ is the word I use for the intrinsic reality of an event.  Value is an element which permeates through and through the poetic view of nature,” Whitehead goes on” (89).

3 A slogan, curiously, William Morris called “a piece of slang” in The Art of the People: An Address Delivered before the Birmingham Society of Arts, February 19th, 1879 (24). Art for art's sake (1836) translates the French l'Art pour l'Art.

4 The movement appears perhaps as early as the first decade of the nineteenth century, but at least with Théophile Gautier in 1835.

5 In an address by that title to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York in 1949.

6 G. Moore, op. cit, 95.

7 Ibid., 27.

8 B. Russell, Collected Papers, 567.

9 B. Russell, Autobiography,  70.

10 “From this atmosphere Keynes escaped into the great world,” Russell begins the next paragraph.

11 N. Griffin, “Moore and Bloomsbury ,” 93.

12 B. Shaffer, “Civilization in Bloomsbury,” 78 n.30.

13 C. Bell, Civilization, 210.

14 Ibid., 215.

15 Ibid., 221. As many have pointed out, the “five hundred pounds a year” Woolf’s woman writer needs is an unearned income.

16 Ibid., 210.

17 Ibid., 220.

18 Qtd. in Q. Bell, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, 137.

19 J. M.  Keynes, Collected Writings : 10, 446.

20 J. M. Keynes,  The Economic Consequences of the Peace,  15, 18, 19.

21 V. Woolf, “The Leaning Tower,” 167.

22 R. Skidelsky, Robert. John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed, 402.

23 In fact, Bell would limit incomes. He proposes to “abolish that barbarous anomaly, the individual with more than three thousand a year” (225). Moreover, the leisured class “should have enough and no more” and no member of it could “increase his or her income” (246). “In my state the surplus of potential wealth […] should be taken half in material well-being—amusements and commodities—and half in leisure” (247). So leisure becomes the ultimate wealth.

24 By contrast, for Bell “knowledge is not a direct means to good” (95).

25 Stuart, James. A Letter on University Extension, 1.

26 A. Zwerdling, Virginia Woolf and the Real World, 101.

27 B. Shaffer, “Civilization in Bloomsbury,” 83, n. 40.

28 Ibid.,  82 n.39.

29 T. Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, 38.

30 C. Bell, Civilization, v.

31 Ibid., 210.

32 L. Woolf, “World of Books: Civilization,” 331.

33 R. H. Tawney’s Equality made Civilization a target (A. Zwerdling, op. cit., 102).

34 Moore’s ethics is a form of realism: the good exists objectively. One could see how this might appeal to the Bloomsbury artists, although Moore’s conception of art itself is curiously restricted to representational art and tinged with Platonic realism: “the emotional contemplation of a natural scene, supposing its qualities equally beautiful, is in some way a better state of things than that of painted landscape:  we think that the world would be improved if we could substitute for the best works of representative art real objects equally beautiful” (195). There is in fact little evidence of any actual empirical interest in art aside from music on Moore’s part.

35 Moore’s attack on Bentham’s and Mill’s greatest-happiness principle is not specifically directed at the idea that the good should be general but against pleasure being the greatest good.

36 G. Moore,  Principia Ethica, 107.

37 Ibid., 189.

38 Ibid., 107.

39 See G. Dostaler, Keynes and His Battles.

40 R. Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed, 133.

41 J.M. Keynes, “Miscellanea ethica,” 21, qtd. J. B. Davis, “Keynes's Critiques of Moore: Philosophical Foundations of Keynes's Economics,” 65. Moore does state that “the mere existence of what is beautiful does appear to have some intrinsic value; but I regard it as indubitable that Prof. Sidgwick was so far right […] that such mere existence of what is beautiful has value, so small as to be negligible, in comparison with that which attaches to the consciousness of beauty” (189).

42 “Moore did devote the entire third chapter” of his later Ethics, Davis writes, “to arguing that the predicate ‘good’ only applied derivatively to individual’s mental states on the grounds that goodness is a quality existing objectively in the world whether or not perceived in acts of moral intuition” (66). See also Davis, Keynes's Philosophical Development.

43 R. Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed, 40.

44 J. M. Keynes,  The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 19-20.

45 R. Fry, Transformations, 70.

46 J. M. Keynes,  Collected Writings : 10, 446.

47 Keynes does state in the chapter “Sundry Observations on the Nature of Capital,” “I sympathize, therefore, with the pre-classical doctrine that everything is produced by labour […]” ( Keynes’s emphasis; qtd. in D. Dillard, “Dillard on Keynes and Marx: a Rejoinder,” 632).

48 Sydney and Beatrice’s Webb’s Fabian Society, which counted George Bernard Shaw and the Woolfs as members, was founded in 1884, the same year as Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation. The Socialist League, founded a year later by a group of dissident SDF members with the encouragement of Friedrich Engels, included William Morris, Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx’s daughter, and Edward Aveling. The Fabian’s reformist and the Socialist League’s revolutionary socialism give an idea of the spectrum of British socialism.

49 J. M. Keynes,  Economic Consequences, 21.

50 D. Bradshaw, “The Socio-Political Vision of the Novels,” 202.

51 V. Woolf, “Introductory Letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davies,” 228. An earlier version of the “Introductory Letter” originally appeared in 1930 as “Memories of a Working Women’s Guild” in the Yale Review.

52 J. Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, 58.

53 D. Bradshaw, “The Socio-Political Vision of the Novels,” 199.

54 D. Bradshaw, “The Socio-Political Vision of the Novels,” 199.

55 B. Shaffer, “Civilization in Bloomsbury,” 86.

56 V. Woolf, “The Leaning Tower,”  180.

57 D. Bradshaw, “The Socio-Political Vision of the Novels,” 200.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid., 203.

60 R. Fry, Transformations, 260.

61 G. Moore,  Collected Writings : 10, 436.

62 B. Russell,  Autobiography, 86.

63 Qtd. in J. B. Davis, “Keynes's Critiques of Moore, 65.

64 Unsent letter to the New Statesman.

65 Bell’s leisure class must not only be spared earning a living; it must be above “action.”

66 V. Woolf, “Middlebrow,” Collected Essays: 2, 198.

67 Qtd in V. Woolf, Roger Fry, 242.

68 W. Morris, “Useful Work,” 164.

69 “The poor college must teach only the arts that can be taught cheaply and practised by poor people; such as medicine, mathematics, music, painting and literature” but also “the little arts of talk, of dress, of cookery.”

70 Qtd in A. Upchurch, “John Maynard Keynes, the Bloomsbury Group and the Origins of the Arts Council Movement,” 209.

71 See J. Esty, “Amnesia in the Fields.”

72 Qtd in A. Upchurch, “John Maynard Keynes, the Bloomsbury Group and the Origins of the Arts Council Movement,” 209.

73 Published in The Listener, 26 August, 1936.

74 J. M. Keynes,  Collected Writings : 28, 344.

75 In Three Guineas, Woolf places the daughters of educated men “standing in the crowd watching Coronations and Lord Mayor's Shows” (95).

76 J. Esty, “Amnesia in the Fields,” 246-247.

77 J. M. Keynes,  Collected Writings : 28, 346.

78 “The London Pageant of Labour Society Limited was registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act in 1934 by G. Maurice Hann and seven other founding members. Its objects were ‘to carry on the industries businesses or trades of organisers and producers of pageants plays and publishers of books and pamphlets related to or connected with the origin and growth of Trade Unionism or intended to advertise some branch of the work of Trade Unions’” (Hann). Woolf evokes this tradition in her “Introductory Letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davies,” with the phrase “The hot June day with its banners and ceremonies” (234).

79 One could also cite the spectacle and pageantry of the French Revolution as an earlier example.

80 J. M. Keynes,  Collected Writings : 28, 347.

81 Ibid., 346. Keynes’s choice of the word “barbaric” suggests “Art and the State” is part of the debate as to what constitutes civilization and who is to enjoy it. When Keynes recommends plans “to ward off the next slump, for the embellishment and comprehensive rebuilding at the public cost of the unplanned, insalutary and disfiguring quarters of our principal cities” and proposes transforming “the south bank of the Thames from the County Hall to Greenwich” into “the most magnificent, the most commodious and healthy working-class quarters of the world,” he lists among what “the State’s efforts at reconstructions should include parks, squares, and playgrounds, with lakes, pleasure gardens and boulevards, and every delight which skill and fancy can devise” and asserts that “[t]he schools of South London should have the dignity of universities with courts, colonnades and fountains, libraries, galleries, dining-halls, cinemas and theatres” (Collected Writings: 28, 348). He thus does not exclude the “picture-palaces” Bell so contemptuously dismisses as inimical to civilization (Civilization, 260).

82 Ibid., 347.

83 J. M. Keynes,  Collected Writings : 28, 346-347.

84 J. Esty, “Amnesia in the Fields,” 272.

85 Ibid.,  248-9.

86 B. Harker, “On Different Levels Ourselves Went Forward,” 437.

87 Walter Benjamin, for instance, traces storytelling to the experience of peasants, seamen and later artisans in “The Storyteller” (85).

88 B. Harker, “On Different Levels Ourselves Went Forward,” 442.

89 Marx, Karl. Early Writings, 125.

90 B. Harker, “On Different Levels Ourselves Went Forward,” 440.

91 One could add: after the attack on the thirty-five hour week in France and the five-week vacation in Europe and the near disappearance of paid vacations in the United States. When Danny Homan, president of Iowa’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, called sabbaticals for university professors “paid vacation,” what shocked most was that a union leader no longer can defend paid vacations (“Republican Plan”).

92 F. Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man,  207.

93 Ibid., 209, 208, 207, 206, 207.

94 B. Harker, “On Different Levels Ourselves Went Forward,” 441.

95 J. Esty, “Amnesia in the Fields,” 265.

96 Of the pre-war writers, she says “They had leisure” (“The Leaning Tower,” 167).

97 E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, 269.

98 Qtd in W. Morris, Selected Writings and Designs, 118.

99 The examples of play Gray and Goldsmith invoke are village sports, but the fairs, etc. Thompson lists could also be included.

100 A. Zwerdling, Virginia Woolf and the Real World, 102-3.

101 Even Bell in the concluding chapter of Civilization felt called upon to write, “All else being equal, I should prefer a civilization based on liberty and justice: partly because it seems to me that the existence of slaves may be damaging to the very élite from which civilization springs” (Civilization, 233).

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